Low Grades for High Times 100 of 2019

The legendary cannabis publication misses the mark — while patting itself on the back.

There was an era when High Times magazine was the gold standard for cannabis journalism. It was the first outlet to successfully connect the phrase “420” with a group of friends from San Rafael. Its editors were the masterminds who gave visually appealing cannabis strains the centerfold treatment in each issue. Since its inception in 1974, High Times has played an enormous role in the proper appreciation of — and the decline of the stigma around — cannabis.

For these reasons, one would expect their list of the 100 “Most influential people in the cannabis world” to reflect the complex and evolving marijuana industry. Instead, the recent assessment of the best and brightest in 2018 reads more like a pitch packet than it does any kind of accurate evaluation of where the cannabis industry stands today.

Case in point: Jim Belushi.

While the High Times list is not ranked, Belushi is the first name to appear. Most famous for sharing DNA with Saturday Night Live legend John Belushi, Jim suggests that his pivot to cannabis is tied to the fact that it could’ve saved his late brother from overdosing on narcotics. That may very well be true, but Jim Belushi is but one of many famous faces to lend their clout to a cannabis product without any discernible expertise.

What’s most confusing is why High Times has decided that Belushi’s Farm is worthy of such singular praise over the countless other operations run by farmers who have been in the business for decades. If there were some specific reason — an added emphasis on sustainability or a commitment to hire a certain percentage of ex-felons, say — one could understand the appeal.

Instead, the blurb reads like an advertisement: “With beautiful views of the Rogue River, Belushi’s 22,000-square-foot, state-licensed growing facility produces pristine healing flowers with wellness in mind.”

Knowing how many other worthy options were omitted in favor of Belushi’s Farm, it’s hard to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to why the Jingle All the Way actor was ultimately given the nod. Elsewhere, other similarly suspicious inclusions lead one to wonder what exactly the High Times editors were smoking when they put this list together.

Controversial boxer Mike Tyson makes the cut for Ranch Companies — a “world-class branding organization with a diversified cannabis product and entertainment portfolio” — while reggae artist Damian Marley is also feted for his company, Stony Hill. Again, there seems to be a trend toward celebrating the famous over the deserving. This is not to suggest that the offerings of Belushi’s Farm, Ranch Companies, or Stony Hill are subpar, but simply that pre-existing fame for external accomplishments is not a valid indicator of success in the cannabis industry.

Furthermore, the blurb on Marley concludes with a note that he “is part of a team of investors that bought High Times magazine in 2017.” It doesn’t take an expert on cannabis or journalism to know it’s frowned upon to heap glowing editorial praise to a part-owner of the publication.

The decision to include David Tran of DOPE Magazine warrants a similar arch of the eyebrow. As the accompanying High Times blurb explains, “He’s now the VP of brand at DOPE Media, which was recently acquired by High Times.” Tran has done some excellent work and on his merits of success as a publisher in cannabis journalism, his inclusion would be welcomed. However, given DOPE is now a High Times property, it seems both grossly self-congratulatory as well as profoundly nepotistic to choose Tran for this distinction.

Capping things off, this list also suffers from a profound disparity of gender. Of 100 entries — in a few cases, two people share one spot on the list — only 13 are women, zero of them women of color. This list arrives at a moment when a number of serious contenders vying to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee have spoken critically of the racial disparities in the cannabis industry. Thus it’s rather appalling that an entire — and rather crucial — demographic has been omitted entirely.

It’s not like there aren’t compelling options.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee or California State Treasurer Fiona Ma would both have made for excellent choices, especially given the criterion “most influential.” Their omission is certainly not due to their status as politicians — Nevada State Legislator Tick Segerblom and California’s own Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax were both deemed suitable.

Instead of any women of color, we get MedMen’s Adam Bierman. Sure, Bierman may be influential in the sense that MedMen has enjoyed an excessively large slice of the publicity pie thus far, but it’s also worth noting that Bierman is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit that alleges he engaged in financial impropriety and used sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs.

As a go-to resource for members of the general public curious to understand the cannabis industry, it’s the responsibility of the editors at High Times to deliver content worthy of their publication’s reputation. In the case of their 100 of 2018, they have notably failed. One hopes this blunder will inspire them to take a fresh look at the industry they purport to know so well.

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